SALINGER, J. D. 1919-
Adolescent Point of View
In 1959 critic Arthur Mizener wrote that J. D. Salinger "is probably the most avidly read author of any serious pretensions in his generation." Salinger attracted his admiring readership, which was concentrated on college campuses, with one novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and one volume of short stories, Nine Stories (1953), most of which had originally appeared in the New Yorker. Salinger's reputation as a serious writer was difficult for some members of the literary establishment to swallow, because it was based on what was considered to be an adolescent readership. Salinger wrote about and appealed to young people. A Time magazine reviewer observed that he could "understand an adolescent mind without displaying one."
Salinger's literary output during the 1950s consisted of The Catcher in the Rye, a first-person narrative by Holden Caulfield, a troubled sixteen-year-old boy seeking to minimize the scars of his own experience and searching for a way to save the innocence of children, and of seven stories about the very intelligent children of the Glass family as they face the responsibility of growth and maturity. Salinger's writing is marked by its direct language, its unsolicitous sympathy for adolescent characters, and an element of spiritual sensitivity, especially in the Glass stories.
His literary celebrity owes as much to his eccentricity as to his talent. Salinger proved that one way to interest the press was to shun it. When he learned that the dust jacket of his first novel included a photograph of him on the back, he insisted that it be replaced. His publishers dutifully withdrew the photograph dust jacket and replaced it with a jacket that has a blank back. He also made his publishers promise not to send him any reviews of the book or any publicity notices because he feared that he might come to believe them.
Soon after The Catcher in the Rye was published, Salinger moved to Cornish, New Hampshire, got married, and became the most determined literary recluse in America. By 1953 he was refusing all contacts with strangers and had cut off all but necessary relationships with the world outside his home, where he lived without electricity or running water and grew much of his own food organically.
The Catcher in the Rye was a publishing success from the beginning. It reached number four on the New York Times best-Seller list and remained in the top ten for seven months, a considerable achievement for an author's first book. It was not until it was published in paperback, however, that it reached its most appreciative audience, which was students. By 1968 the novel was counted among the twenty-five American best-sellers of the previous seventy-five years.
By the late 1950s Salinger's reputation was among the highest of all living writers, which included Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and John Steinbeck. Granville Hicks, writing in the Saturday Review, observed that "there are, I am convinced, millions of young Americans who feel closer to Salinger than to any other writer." Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner, in the first critical volume about Salinger's work, named him the only postwar writer whose fiction was "unanimously approved by contemporary literate American youth." In 1951 Salinger told a Time reporter, "Some of my best friends are children … in fact, all of my best friends are children." He was also their literary spokesman.
Donald Bar, "Saints, Pilgrims and Artists," Commonweal, 67 (25 October 1957): 8-9;
Ian Hamilton, In Search of J. D. Salinger (New York: Random House, 1988);
Arthur Mizener, "The Love Song of J. D. Salinger," Harper's, 218 (February 1959): 83-90;
George Steiner, "The Salinger Industry," Nation, 189 (14 November 1959): 360-363.